Home > Reign : A Romance Anthology

Reign : A Romance Anthology
Author: Nina Levine

 

Prologue

 

 

ZOEY/Angie

 

 

“Asshole,” I cursed, wiping at the foggy mirror and leaning in close to get a good look at the fresh bruise highlighting my cheekbone. “Dammit.” I’d have to try and hide the mark before Lisa got a glimpse of it. She didn’t take lightly to the men putting their hands on us because then she knew we didn’t make them happy. And unhappy customers aren’t good for business.

Making quick work of adding another layer of foundation to my face, I swiped extra blush strategically across my cheeks to give me what Lisa liked to call that innocent glow. The heat of the shower washed away some of the shame and disgust that tainted my skin, but it was never going to wash away that crawling sensation that had buried itself deep inside.

A feeling I was fairly sure was permanent.

The party was still pumping by the time I got back downstairs. I wasted no time, quickly snatching a glass of champagne off a tray as a waiter passed by.

Liquid courage.

Something to numb my choices.

Something to wipe my memories.

The young server didn’t even look twice. He’d been paid not to, even though I was acutely aware of the fact I didn’t look anywhere close to being twenty-one.

I wouldn’t be here if I did.

That wasn’t what these men were looking for.

Eyes skimmed my body as I passed by. I swore I could feel them reaching for me, their hands tearing at my clothes, the feel of their breath against my neck. Goddammit. My self-control managed to curb the disgusted shudder I could feel tickling at the base of my spine, but not the nausea that had already begun to stir inside my stomach.

“Jesus,” I cursed, lifting the alcohol to my lips, desperate for some kind of escape.

“No drinking, you know the rules.”

I stilled, my face sinking as the glass was plucked from my grasp before I could even take a single mouthful. Lisa’s taloned fingers wrapped around the tall flute, her long nails clinking against the glass.

“You’re underage,” she scolded, her nose flaring.

“Right, underage,” I repeated, spitting out a sharp laugh. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I am not,” she growled and pressed the glass to her lips, taking a dainty sip just at the edge. Everything she did had to be elegant, high class. From the way she drank to her sleek ink-black hair that was cut into a sharp, sophisticated bob. Her eyes scanned the room constantly, aware of everything that was going on, mentally matching men with the generous array of teenage girls scattered throughout the room. Her eyes finally fell back to me, disappointment clearly evident. “You think stumbling around with a glass of alcohol in your hand is going to make these men want to get anywhere near you?”

“All the more reason,” I quipped, my lip curling.

“Angie…”

“Too young to drink, but just the right age to be fucked by perverts. Got ya.” The low murmur was meant to be under my breath, but like always, I underestimated Lisa Eyler and her ability to see, hear, and smell defiance.

And also, her innate ability to tear it from you.

Her perfectly crafted persona didn’t falter for a second. The typical warm, welcoming smile plastered across her face as she hooked her arm through mine and directed me through the crowd.

Throngs of A-list celebrities, CEOs, and court judges mixed and mingled like any high-profile event you would expect in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

It was everything you’d expect.

Million-dollar homes, wealthy residents, expensive parties.

Oh, and teenage girls being paraded in front of rich, untouchable men and sold like fucking cattle.

Invitation only, of course.

Lisa’s nails pinched at my skin with enough pressure to make my knees week, and a slight whimper escaped from my throat. “Lisa,” I hissed, a painful crack in my voice that could have easily been mistaken for pleading.

She didn’t respond, not until we reached the double doors at the end of the hall. One hard shove, and I went flying through them, stumbling, fighting to catch myself but failing. My hip hit the floor first, the carpet burning at my palms as I reached out to try and brace myself.

“Get up.”

I fought the aches and pains resonating through my body, trying to ignore them for just a second while I found my feet. I may have spent the past couple of years being beaten, broken, and used, but I hadn’t been defeated.

Not fucking yet.

“Go to hell,” I snapped through clenched teeth, blood dripping down my arm from where her nails had pierced my skin. I stood tall, meeting the hellfire gaze of the woman I’d once seen as a person I thought I could aspire to.

This kick-ass bitch, holding her own in a world full of men.

The kind that looked down on women, not seeing them as equals.

Though what I hadn’t realized when I’d first met her was her hold over these men wasn’t because they looked up to her, and it wasn’t because they respected her or the millions of dollars she had worked hard for.

No.

This world didn’t run on respect.

It was fueled by fear.

And Lisa Eyler had every single one of these men by the fucking balls.

When I didn’t move, she stormed forward, grabbing a fistful of my hair in her hand. I squashed the painful scream that filled my throat, feeling single hairs be ripped from my scalp as she pulled harder, forcing me to sink back, then onto my knees to escape the pain.

“You want to go back home, Angie?” she taunted, crouching down and pressing her face right in close to mine. She reached out, brushing away the stray tears that were now decorating my cheeks, thanks to the pulsating ache in my skull. “I brought you here,” she whispered, the gentle tone much like that of a mother trying to soothe her child. “I protected you from your dad. Paid for you to go to a good school. Found sponsors so you could join your little swim team.”

I was finally getting good grades, and I had always had this addiction to the water, but now with her backing me, I had the chance to make the national team.

Gritting my teeth, I listened to the speech, the one I’d heard time and fucking time again.

How she was so good to me.

How she had saved me.

Given me a life I could have never dreamed of.

Reminding me of what I could go back to if I wanted to walk away.

A run-down apartment with the electricity turned off more often than it was on. The constant questioning of whether I would eat that day because my father spent everything he had earned on alcohol. Then used me as his personal punching bag because apparently, it was my fault my mom walked out on us.

I paid for my parents’ decisions every single damn day of my life.

That was until two years ago when Lisa showed up like the fairy fucking godmother I thought I deserved. She told me I was beautiful, told me how much potential I had to be something amazing, and I was at a place in my life where I didn’t even need amazing.

I would have been happy with just being something.

Anything.

She offered me a lifeline.

So I took the leap.

Right into the fires of hell.

And here was I was, praying that one day they might actually destroy me.

Lisa finally released me from her tight grip, my sore and aching body sinking back onto the floor. “Now you’re going to get up,” she explained, her fingers caressing my jaw as she stepped back. “You’re going to plaster a beautiful, welcoming smile on your face, and you are going to please the man I send in here for you. Are we clear?”

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